《To Understand Buddhism》
Venerable Master Chin Kung (淨空法師）
CHAPTER THREE：SYMBOLISM AND THE ARTS
After we understand clearly the goal of the Buddha's teachings, we will view the sutras differently. These sutras are one of the world's largest literary collections. I believe that when considering the range of all academia, none of them surpass Buddhism. To obtain the benefits from this vast collection, it is necessary for us to know and understand the essence of its content, which is the true reality of all Dharma, the true reality of life and the universe. Life refers to ourselves. Universe refers to the living environment that surrounds us. It would be incorrect to treat Buddhism as an abstract and obscure learning that had nothing to do with our daily lives. Every word in the sutra closely relates to our daily living. Furthermore, it is definitely not superstition.
How and where do we start? For convenience, the perfection in the methods of the Buddha's teaching uses a high level of creativity. Buddhism of two thousand years ago had already taken an artistic path. For example, all the Buddha's names and sculptures represent our virtuous nature, innate qualities of wisdom, virtuous abilities and artistic talents. All of the Bodhisattva's names and forms represent our cultivation of virtue. They instruct us how to apply the teachings in our daily lives to bring out our virtuous nature so we may receive Buddhism's benefits.
In Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, four great Bodhisattvas represent our order of practice and level of achievement. The first is Earth Store Bodhisat tva（地藏菩薩）. Whether we are thinking of worldly teachings, the dharma or Buddhism; nothing can be accomplished without the earth or a place of existence.
The existence of humans cannot be separated from our great earth as we rely upon it for survival. Whether for food, clothing, living or working, all rely on the production of the land, thus the infinite treasures that the great earth encompasses are seemingly endless for us to use. The word "earth" in the name Earth Store Bodhisattva represents the mind and the word "store" means treasure.
The Buddha's teachings guide us to first start the practice from our mind, as our true nature encompasses the infinite wisdom and virtuous abilities that are no different from those of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. However, today it seems as if we have lost our innate wisdom and virtuous abilities. The Buddha told us that all these qualities are not truly lost, just not yet uncovered. In the present moment, we endlessly immerse ourselves in wandering, discriminating thoughts and attachments, which have resulted in this temporary loss of abilities.
However, inside the true mind, no wandering thoughts exist. If a mind has wandering thoughts then that mind is a false one. We originally possessed this true mind, so practicing Buddhism is simply recovering it. Therefore, our first goal in practice is to uncover and look for the treasure in our mind. In other words, the Buddha's teachings do not seek from the outside but rather they seek from within our self-nature.
Earth Store Bodhisattva represents filial piety; thus, the Earth Store Sutra is about filial piety, a basic concept that everyone would do well to start from. The kindness that our parents have shown by giving us life and nurturing us is beyond description. To be filial and take care of our parents is naturally our basic responsibility. Not only do we need to take care of their material needs but of their spiritual life as well.
Moreover, we need to nurture their aspirations for us and for us, this is the hardest of all. Parents wish their
children to have successful careers, behave well, and to be respected by current and future generations. In other words, we would do well to act in a manner, which will make them proud of us. There fore, the ultimate and perfect achievement of filial piety is to become Buddha. We begin our practice from here and expand our filial piety and respect to include all sentient beings.
The second Bodhisattva, Guan Yin, represents the cultivation of great compassion and kindness. What is the meaning of making offerings to Guan Yin Bodhisattva? It is to remind us that we would do well to treat all people with great compassion and kindness, to use unconditional love and care to help all sentientbeings.
The third Bodhisattva, Manjusrid（文殊菩薩）, represents wisdom and rationale, reminding us that when we practice and interact with others we need to fulfill our filial duty, to rely upon wisdom and rationale, not on emotion.The fourth Bodhisattva, the Great Samantabhadra（普賢菩薩）(Universal Worthy) represents carrying out the cultivation truthfully, applying filial piety, compassion, kindness and rationale in our daily lives.
When we perfectly achieve the way of Universal Worthy Bodhisattva, we become a Buddha. Buddhism teaches us how to live in harmony with the true reality of life and the universe. In other words, we would live perfect and wonderful lives similar to those of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. This is the true, ultimate and perfect Mahayana teaching.
To practice Buddhism, we start by:
1) Being filial and respectful toward parents, teachers and elders,
2) Having the great compassionate mind,
3) Nurturing our thinking and wisdom and
4) Broadening our mind.
Although in sequence, they also can be practiced simultaneously, as each encompasses the others. For example, being filial to parents includes compassion and kindness, reasoning and wisdom. Wisdom includes being filial, compassionate and kind.
Once we have a general understanding of Buddhism, how do we apply it to our daily living? First we need to know what each Buddha and Bodhisattva represents. If we do not, then Buddhism would be reduced to superstition and we would not receive its true benefits. All Buddhist sutras contain these qualities, characteristics and the ways of practice; there fore, learning only one sutra will be enough. We need to know how to understand and apply the teachings effectively.
Usually in the center of the main hall of a temple, there are statues of one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas, which represent our self-nature and original entity. The two Bodhisattvas represent our virtuous abilities within our self-nature; one is understanding and the other is practice. If the Buddha in the middle is Buddha Shakyamuni, then the two figures on either side of him will be Manjusri（文殊師利菩薩） and Universal Worthy Bodhisattvas（普賢菩薩）, representing wisdom and application respectively.
Thus, understanding and practice are combined into one. If the hall has the three sages of Western Pure Land, with Buddha Amitabha in the middle, representing self-nature, then the two figures on either side of him will be Guan Yin（觀世音菩薩）and Great Strength Bodhisattvas（大勢至菩薩）. They respectively represent compassion and wisdom, completely symbolizing the infinite wisdom and virtuous capabilities. Therefore, we again see that Buddhism is a teaching.
There are profound teachings within the names of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, for example the name of Buddha Shakyamuni tells us the principles of the Buddha's education. "Shakya" means humanity and kindness. "Muni" means purity of mind. The teachings of these two qualities are advocated be cause people in our world lack compassion and kindness, and are often selfish.
Moreover, all sentient beings lack purity of mind, constantly dwelling in wandering thoughts, greed, anger, ignorance and arrogance. Any Bodhisattva who becomes a Buddha in this world will be named Shakyamuni to teach us the remedy for our problems. Once the representations of Buddha and Bodhisattva statues are understood intuitively just by looking at them, we will perfectly comprehend the goal of the Buddha's teachings.
When we enter the first hall of a way place, the Hall of Heavenly Guardians（天王殿）, we will see the statue of Maitreya Bodhisattva（彌勒菩薩）surrounded by the four Heavenly Guardians（四大天王）in the middle of the hall. Maitreya Bodhisattva, known in the west as the Happy Buddha, has a huge smile representing joyfulness. His great stomach represents enormous tolerance and broad-mindedness, teaching us to interact with others and matters with joy, to be non-discriminating and tolerant. Next to him are four Heavenly Guardians（四大天王）or Dharma Protectors（護法善神）who teach us how to protect ourselves.
The Eastern Dharma Protector（東方持國天王）, symbolizes fulfill ing our duty and responsibility, teaching us that regardless of position, we need to fulfill our duties. He is holding a lute in his hand. The strings of the instrument should not be too tight, or else they will break; nor should they be too loose or they will not play well. When properly adjusted and balanced, the instrument will play beautifully, clearly symbolizing that we need to take the middle path when interacting with matters, people and objects. When each of us fulfills our responsibilities and obligations, how could the nation not prosper?
The Southern Dharma Protector（南方增長天王）symbolizes improvement and daily advancement. Not only do matters need to be taken care of appropriately; continuous improvement also needs to be sought. In his right hand, the Southern Dharma Protector holds the sword of wisdom and in his left hand a ring symbolizing the perfection of wisdom, showing us that we need to use wisdom in seeking improvement. The sword symbolizes how we need to sever afflictions before they are out of control.
The third and fourth Heavenly Guardians are the Western and the Northern Dharma Protectors（西方廣目天王、北方多聞天王）, representing comprehensive vision and listening respectively. Both teach us to observe and listen more carefully as well as to read numerous books and travel to many places for comprehensive learning. They teach us to do well in our job, to adopt the good qualities as well as to disregard the shortcom ings of others.
The Western Dharma Protector（西方廣目天王）represents farsighted observation and holds a dragon or snake. The dragon or snake symbolizes constant change. In his other hand he holds a bead, symbolizing principles. People, matters and objects in society undergo changes constantly. We need to observe very carefully and thoroughly, to have a firm grasp on the principles within in order to be able to control this "dragon or snake."
The Northern Dharma Protector（北方多聞天王） holds an umbrella to prevent us from being contami nated. This reminds us that within a complex society, we need to know how to protect our body and mind from pollution and corruption. From these examples, we can see that the artistic aspects of the Buddha's education are truly beautiful. Unfortunately, many people regard these Dharma protectors as gods to be worshipped, which is totally wrong.